Off the Ground

A read-aloud of this story https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Off-the-Ground-e17r4p4

Brenda knew that she was awake and that her bed was off the ground. But that didn’t seem to change matters for the better.

With a loud thump, it landed on the floor and pretended like it had never flown in its life.

Sitting up didn’t seem to help anything either. It’s not as if she could get out of bed and investigate. The darn thing was now acting as innocent as pecan pie. Besides, she was too frightened to get out from under her thick covers.

She blinked, and the dark room came into focus. The clock on the cabinet glowed red digits warning her that she’d have to get ready for work in a mere four hours. If she didn’t lie down and sleep now, she’d be a wreck at work. Gosh knows, she didn’t need any sly looks from the high schoolers or their teachers who loved to catch any snippet of gossip and wring the life out of it.

Slowly, she lowered her head to the pillow, her gaze fixed on the closet door. If the handle disappeared from her line of sight, she’d know what was going on. Luckily, the only sight that demanded her attention was the back of her eyelids as they covered her concerns in exhaustion.

Morning came bright and early. The birds sang their merry hearts out and then squabbled in turn. Just like some people I know. Brenda hopped out of bed, remembered the nocturnal flight, and froze in mid-step. She peered at the scene, carefully analyzing the exact placement of each piece of furniture.

Yep. The bed had moved. Normally there was a walkway between the edge of the bed and the end table by her reading chair. Now, there was hardly room for a hand, much less a whole body.

She studied the dresser, the file cabinet, and the bookshelf. They all seemed in their usual place, though upon further examination, the file cabinet had parted with the wall by a good two inches.

Ah, ha!

Conclusion? Some strange force had been at work in her room last night.

Scampering to the bathroom, Brenda accomplished her necessary morning duties in a fraction of their normal time, skipped breakfast altogether, and ran out of her tiny house with her work satchel slung over her shoulder and her phone clutched in her hand.

Pounding along the leaf-strewn sidewalk, she texted with one hand. A skill she had learned from a student waiting to see the principal.

Jim, we have to talk!

Coffee at the Café in 5.

My sanity hangs in the balance.

Of course, Jim always had coffee at the Corner Café before work, so she wasn’t exactly discombobulating his schedule. But as he liked to peruse the want ads, pretending that he was looking for a property where he’d build his dream house, adopt a puppy, and find a charming wife, he always acted like he was too busy to carry his half of a conversation.

He liked to listen though and grunted or hummed in all the right places.

She bounded along the quiet neighborhood street until she got to the Dividing Line. The high school was on one side and the main university campus on the other. She worked as a secretary at the high school. Jim worked as a maintenance guy on campus. They often thought of exchanging places for a day and see if anyone noticed. But as they hated a ruckus of any kind, they figured they’d just imagine the scene it would make and be content with that.

The Corner Café catered to high schoolers and the college crowd, making it a mainstay for more years than anyone could remember. The fact that it was decorated in the fifties style with movie star posters glittering from the walls, made it attractive without causing competitive friction.

Brenda breezed in.

Jim slouched over a newspaper at the counter. A coffee cup and a cream cheese bagel close at hand.

Brenda nodded at Jamie, the waitress, who didn’t need to ask what she’d have. She knew. In her fifties with a shock of red hair, maybe natural, she meandered about the café and accommodated customers with the pleasure of someone who long since decided that she worked to live not lived to work. It was a truce that offered benefits. Never in a hurry, she always brought what you wanted—eventually.

Brenda slid onto the red-covered stool next to Jim. “I got the scare of my life last night.”

Jim scratched his cheek. “Hmm.”

“My bed rose off the floor and then thumped to the ground.”

Jim turned the page of the newspaper with expert care.

“I could have been killed! How about if I had been sleeping on the edge? I sometimes do, you know. I could have slipped off and fallen under one of the legs, and it would’ve punched a big hole through me.”

Jim slapped his cheek.

Got his attention him at last!

Jim flicked a finger at the headlines. “The Paws Place has gone out of business. And just when I was getting up the courage to adopt one of their critters.”

Brenda shoved the paper aside. “Didn’t you hear me? I might have been killed. And even though it was rather unlikely, I still would like to know what the bed was doing bouncing up and down last night. And the file cabinet, too!”

Finally, Jim looked her way. “You do seem a bit disheveled. Did you even glance in the mirror?”

“Was it a poltergeist, you think?”

Jamie sauntered over and placed a cup of hot coffee on the counter in front of Brenda. Then she slid a plate of buttered wheat toast with two little jam packets on the side.

Starving, Brenda ripped open a creamer and four sugar packets and doctored her coffee. Then she tore open the jam packet and looked around for a knife.

None in sight.

A speedster roared down the street.

Jim looked out the window. “That’s Prof Kilroy. Got a new red one and loves to flash it about town.”

Desperate to get her toast jammed, Brenda squeezed the jellied mess onto its appointed destination. She spread it with a finger and nudged Jim with her elbow. “What do you think?”

“Not a poltergeist. They’ve gone completely out of style. Now, back in the eighties, you could still get away with that sort of thing, but try it now, and you’d be laughed out of town.”

Brenda glanced at the wall clock and took two hasty bites, then talked around her chews. “Aliens?”

Jim shrugged. “Possible but still unlikely.” He stared down his nose at her. “Why would aliens want to play pogo stick with your bed? Or redecorate the furniture in your room?”

“Maybe they were just passing through, and their force moved things unintentionally.”

Jim scratched his head, took a large bite of his bagel, and eyed the last dregs of his coffee. “Doesn’t work that way. Anything powerful enough to make it to this world and stupid enough to hang around would have either conquered us already or been decimated by our transportation system.”

A distant bell rang.

Jim sighed, folded his paper, and offered Brenda a deadpanned stare. “The kiddos will want to know where their late slips go, and your principal will want the agenda for the teachers’ meeting.”

Brenda chomped down the last of her toast and chugged her hot coffee, burning the back of her throat. “And campus security will want to know what to do with the latest vandalized bicycle and where to put the tiles that blew off in the storm last night.”

Parting just outside the door, Brenda waved good bye with a composed smile.

Jim waved back and started across the street. Suddenly he called out, “What storm?”

Knowing that she’d never survive the day if she considered Jim’s remark, Brenda pretended she didn’t hear and ran into the school building, hoping that she wasn’t too late.

That evening, Brenda returned home, flung her satchel aside, unloaded her grocery bag, and headed to the bedroom with her mind made up. She wasn’t going to have her life dictated by some malevolent spirits or mysterious aliens. She pulled off her work clothes, dragged on a pair of rugged work jeans and a warm pullover to fight the autumn chill, and faced her bedroom furniture.

“All right now! I’m putting you all back where I want you, and I expect you to behave properly. I’m the one who bought and paid for you, arranged a place for you in my home, and keep you from falling into total degradation in the dump.”

With concerted effort, she pushed the bed and then shoved the file cabinet into their former positions. Satisfied, she clapped her hands. Her world was back in order, and all was well.

Until approximately 2:00 am.

The bed danced, and the furniture shook.

Brenda jumped out of bed and looked around. She had been having a strange dream about ocean waves roaring into a tsunami.

No ocean and no waves, but the floor was definitely vibrating. Perhaps the bed was not actually off the floor, but it had shifted from its assigned position.

She shivered.

The wind shrieked and pounded against the house.

Scampering to the window, she peered into the autumn night. The temperatures had dropped, and she could see leaves swirling in the wind.

Rubbing her arms, she sent a prayer to heaven for her heating system. At least the house was warm.

Then, silence and all was still. The wind settled down, and the floor becalmed.

With a weary sigh, Brenda climbed back into bed to snatch the last few hours of sleep.

In the morning, her hair uncombed and her shirt on inside out, Brenda slipped into place next to Jim at the cafe and pounded her fist on the counter. “It happened again last night! The whole house went on a rampage, and my furniture went where ever they wanted.”

Jim gave her a once over, pity flooding his eyes. He folded the paper and laid it aside.

In unusual efficiency, Jamie placed toast and coffee before Brenda like a lifeboat to a drowning victim. In the first intimidating act of the day, she stared at Jim.

In acknowledgment of the right thing to do, Jim nodded. “I’ll come by tonight and sleep on your couch. We’ll catch the culprit in the act.”

Relieved beyond measure, Brenda kissed Jim on the cheek before she inhaled her breakfast and headed off to work.

That night, Brenda got Jim settled comfortably on the couch with enough pillows and blankets to keep a petulant maharaja happy.

Since the temperatures had dropped below freezing, Brenda set the thermostat higher. It was an ancient heater that predated the civil war or close anyway, so she wanted to be sure that Jim wouldn’t think she was cheapskate and leave him to freeze during the night.

No chance of that as they both flew into the air at approximately the same moment when the house began to shake, rattle, and roll.

“Good golly, this house has more rhythm than the entire sixties generation!” He flicked on the table lamp.

Brenda scampered into the living room both scared silly and wildly exultant. “You see what I mean? It’s practically alive!” She was so glad that she wasn’t crazy that despite the vibrations making the couch skitter across the room, she actually felt amused.

The house settled down as quickly as it had erupted.

Jim plopped down on the edge couch. Or where it had been and promptly landed on the floor.

Brenda giggled as she helped him to his feet. “Gremlins or aliens, do you think?”

Jim snorted and headed directly for the floor vent. He peered at it, then demanded to see the furnace.

Confused, Brenda led the way to the miniature basement and pointed at the behemoth. “It’s been here as long as the house. Never causes me any problem. Just have to turn the dial a little more each year to get it to respond.”

Jim nodded, grabbed a metal poker off the shelf, and tapped the ductwork.

They tinged and banged in response, echoing throughout the house.

Brenda was charmed. “It’s like they’re singing. Do that again; it’s kind of fun.”

Jim snorted. “Ha! Fun you call it. You didn’t like it when they sang you awake the last few nights.”

Flummoxed out of any recognizable speech pattern, Brenda stared at the ordinary looking pipes that ran throughout her house.

“They’re all loosie-goosy—don’t you see? When it got cold, you set the thermostat to kick the furnace on, and so it did. And it set the duct work to singing—or grumbling—all over the house. Which set the furniture to dance on their vibrations.”

Embarrassment flushed through Brenda’s whole body. “Oh, gosh, I’m such an idiot.”

Jim smiled and tentatively placed his arm around her shoulder. “I wouldn’t say that. You’re a secretary who doesn’t know ductwork as well as a maintenance guy.” He led her back upstairs and nudged her toward her bedroom. “Get a blissful night’s sleep. Tomorrow is Saturday, and you can fix coffee and biscuits in the kitchen while I take look about and see what other wonders this house holds.”

Brenda stared at Jim almost as if he had begun to dance. She turned and headed back to bed. When she climbed under the covers, she knew the bed wasn’t floating off the ground. But her heart was.

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For more stories like this one, check out One Day at a TimeAnd Other Stories

https://amzn.to/2YFtQ5r

For other books by A. K. Frailey see her Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/A.-K.-Frailey/e/B006WQTQCE

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/model-people-woman-leaves-autumn-2596054/

Let Yourself Go

Podcast https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Let-Yourself-Go-e17658p

Rather not. Jeremiah slid into his seat at the back of the lecture hall and prayed that the scrawled message on the board referred to a campus cult’s lack of original thinking rather than a preview of his professor’s worldview.

A tall thin spectacle with a man-bun on top, a tie-dyed shirt, bloomers-like shorts, and flapping bedroom slippers sauntered up to the podium.

I should’ve taken the online class.

A young woman, mid-twenties, long brown hair, wireframe glasses, small build but toned legs dropped her bulging backpack by the third empty chair to the right of him.

But then again…

The room filled to capacity and Jerimiah opened his notebook, flipped it to a new section, and tapped his pencil.

The young woman slid a recorder to the front of her desk, then leaned back and closed her eyes.

What’s this? A lazy beauty who gets through class by replaying the lecture when it suits her fancy?

Jerimiah shoved the thought—Wish I’d thought of it—far away.He rubbed his eyes. Between his mom’s recent liver transplant, the store downsizing and leaving managers like him in the dust, and the new graduation regulations, he’d come to think that the Universe was in a sour mood. He wasn’t too Sweet himself.

The professor started—digging into societal ills, cultural concerns, hot button issues, even picking on the front row students like lab rats who couldn’t escape the taunting labels expelled from his gut based on their hyperventilated one-word answers. “When you leave this class, you won’t know yourself! Kiss mommy and daddy’s straightjacket goodbye!”

Jeremiah dropped his head on his hands. “At least online I could’ve muted him.”

“What? And missed all this fun?”

Jeremiah glanced over.

Beauty, still leaning back with her eyes closed, appeared very much asleep.

“Excuse me?”

The professor sucked in a lungful for another charge. “How can you say you know anything—you believe anything—until you’ve heard all sides? I’m here to bring you into direct contact with ALL SIDES!”

Beauty sat up, a frown making her nose wrinkle in an alarmingly adorable fashion. “He’s a circle?”

The gut-busting laugh that exploded from Jeramiah made him clutch his notebook and pencil as he fled the room.

Two days later, Jeremiah hurried down the hall after his last class of the week. He had a ton of work over the weekend, his mom needed someone to fix her end table, which tended to send her books and medicines crashing to the floor by evening no matter how well she propped it up each morning, and he had an interview for a part-time manager position on Saturday. If he could finish the year with the stellar grades he started with, he’d be sure of a full-time position before the year was out.

Only one class stood in his way.

Beauty strode along with him into the library, her bulging backpack pressing her shoulders into a stooped position.

A million introductions flashed through his mind, creating a linguistic maelstrom, not unlike ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs on steroids. Lacking any rational brain cells to call upon, Jeremiah simply stepped in front of the pretty woman, halting her in her tracks.

She looked up and stared blankly.

“He’s a circle?”

Astonishing how long she could maintain that blank expression.

“In class? The professor promised to bring us in contact with all sides…”

Comprehension filled her eyes. Light broke over the mountains. Beauty smiled. Then the gate slammed shut. “It’s an English class! What’s he doing—social engineering?”

The puppy inside every man has moments when he desperately wants to run around in wild circles with his tongue lolling out and a wide grin encompassing his face.

The library would not be the appropriate setting.

“You free? I’m about ready for a cup of—” He shrugged. “You name it, and I’ll get one for you too.”

She laughed.

Three hours later, Jeremiah took the steps to his parent’s house two at a time. He stepped into the living room and caught his mom napping lopsided in a chair and his dad pacing in circles.

“Hey, Dad. Everything okay?”

His dad’s tear-filled eyes glinted in the afternoon light. “She’s slipping away, son. Won’t be long now.”

A day and a half later, Jeremiah finished the arrangements for his mom’s funeral Mass and then ran as fast as his legs would carry him into class.

Well into the first hour, the professor was in his element, extolling the freedom of thought that would lead to well-formed lives and true humanity. With pounding steps, he labored across his personal stage, excoriating the fools who marched in lockstep with old traditions, unmindful of the variety of options available.

Beauty slouched in her seat, one hand covering her eyes.

Jerimiah slipped into his seat and for the first time since his mom’s death, felt the crushing loss that he knew he’d live with for the rest of his life. Only the words of scripture, the hymns, and songs, the candlelight comforted his aching soul. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God…

“Let go!” The professor hammered the podium like a preacher swearing hellfire to the damned.

“Where? You only offer a void.” Beauty’s face glowered, anger and hurt glaring through her eyes.

His chin up and hand raised, the professor demanded obedience. “Open your minds!”

So low, Jeremiah barely heard her words, Beauty’s spirit screamed, “So, the wind can blow through?”

Snatching her hand, Jeremiah helped her grab her bag, and they hustled outside.

Beauty flopped against the wall. “I need that class. But I don’t think I can stand his rants for another day.”

Jeremiah nodded. “My mom just passed away. All I can think of is how much I wish I had her back—and he keeps screaming that I have to let go.”

Beauty’s eyes reflected from twin pools of grief. “I’m sorry.”

Jeremiah sucked in a deep breath and took her hand. “Perhaps we should take his advice.”

“Huh?”

“There are other classes.” He shrugged. “It might mean a summer school, but instead of this—”

“We can actually learn something.” Beauty grinned. “We’re more squares than circles, eh?”

His mom’s endearing smile before his eyes, Jeremiah nodded, took Beauty’s hand, and let go.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/man-college-student-read-a-book-4299342/

Welfare and Well Being

David Koelth couldn’t believe his luck. Even if it was well-earned. He deserved it, really. The award had his name on it, after all: The Koelth Department of Welfare and Well Being.

David tossed the green apple left over from lunch into the air and caught it handily. He leaned back in his swivel chair before his Richman Hill Executive Desk and surveyed his dingy office. Granted, he was on the top floor of the four-story building and had a decent view of the east side of town, but still, it was only a lecturer’s office. An assistant had it before him, for Heaven’s sake.

He glanced at his calendar marked in bold colors depicting the various hats he wore each day of the week. Educational Psychology Lecturer Mondays and Thursdays, Assistant Dean of the Health Department on Wednesdays and Fridays, Published Author working on his latest masterpiece—Wholly You—on Tuesdays (his favorite day of the week), and attentive Husband and Father Saturday and Sunday.

A yawn bubbled up from his middle. It was late on Friday afternoon, but he hadn’t been able to get much done. Constant interruptions!

First, Mildred from accounting had taken issue with his taxes. Something about a form that no one told him to fill out and now “they had to take a tiny snippet”—her exact word choice—from his salary to make everything come out “even-steven” at the end of the year. What? Did the woman eat archaic expressions for breakfast? He’d give her a thesaurus for Christmas.

Then coach Max waddled in from the ballfield. How such an overweight guy managed his role as athletics director stumped David. Must have relatives in high places. Or he knows where to get the choice meats and offers discounts for the university banquets. The strange thing about Max was that he never really explained anything. He spoke in eyebrows and syllables.

Eyebrows in the up position. “Eh, you o-kay?”

David spent a half hour of his very valuable time trying to figure out why Max had hefted his way to his office.

Turning beet red and sweeping the floor with his gaze, Max just leaned on the door frame and stared through those bulbous eyes with dreary pleading. For what… Only God and the next empty container of dairy queen’s chocolate chip ice cream would know for certain. He had tossed him his apple. Maybe the guy would get a clue.

Finally, just when he was putting the last touches on his monthly planner, his wife, Ruth, had phoned and insisted that the hot water heater was broken. Lord have mercy. He had called the plumber three times this summer, and he sure as heck wasn’t doing it again. He could shower at work while she figured out what she was doing wrong. No way in hell he’d fork out another hundred bucks for plungers, pipes, or screwed up thermostats. Wait till the season got cold, then he’d think about it. Probably all in her head anyway.

Oh well, time to head to the club and see what was on tap. He didn’t need a drink, but it’d be good to check on the guys and gals. Gossip was a university’s life blood, and he had no intention of becoming anemic anytime soon.

~~~

Surprisingly, no one at the club seemed in the mood to chat. Not with him anyway. Had he forgotten to use deodorant this morning? He sniffed. Nope. Nothing wrong with him. Must be a full moon. Everyone was acting weird, like they had been having a con-fab when he arrived but wouldn’t speak again till he left. He’d shrugged it off. If they wanted to get hot and bothered about sport’s team failures, a roller-coaster economy, or the latest-greatest plan to serve the community, he was glad he’d missed it.

Apparently, there were no faculty leaks about his up-coming award. He had looked for silent congratulations or the ever-present green-eyed monster, but nothing of the sort. Just a few head shakes and shrugs.

Who cares about them?

He drove through snarly traffic in anticipation of his wife’s Friday dinner special, his son, David Jr’s weekly school report, and his daughter, Lilly’s cuteness. He’d give David the pointers every high-school kid needed to be college ready and enjoy the last days of Lilly’s childhood since he knew perfectly well that once she became a teen, she’d become unbearable. Inevitably, he’d have to distance himself so that she wouldn’t use him as a cash box.

After arriving at his two-story colonial house with wrap around porch, he parked the car in the attached garage and sauntered into the house.

“Honey, I’m home!”

He glanced around the quiet kitchen in the dim evening light. What’s going on? Where is everyone?

He laid his leather briefcase on the counter and headed to the living room. His heart nearly stopped. Books and magazines lay scattered as if they’d left the room in a hurry.

What a mess! Is this what he’d worked all day to come home to?

David pulled out his phone, ready to give hell to his wife, then order pizza for dinner since clearly nothing would be ready in time for his growling stomach.

The doorbell rang.

Who the—? He charged forward, ready to dispatch the devil himself.

But he didn’t need to. The devil already had plans.

~~~

David sat in the emergency room where his wife had just breathed her last, and the bodies of his children were stretched out nearby. The staff had brought them in so he could offer a personal goodbye.

He didn’t have anything to offer. He couldn’t think. Or feel.

A heavy tread paced forward.

David lifted his aching head and tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

Coach Max?

Max stopped before him and laid his meaty hand on David’s shoulder. His voice shook with emotion. “So—so sorry.”

That’s all it took, and David lost all power of speech. For once he listened.

“We planned a big celebration for tonight—the guys from the department, Ruth, family and friends from all over were coming tonight. But Mildred—from accounting—fell and broke her wrist so she called Ruth. She and the kids hurried over to get the last details in place—except they never made it. A tired truck driver crossed the line. No one survived.” His eyes welled in tears. “And this was supposed to be your glory day.”

The Koelth Department of Welfare and Well Being echoed in David’s head like a devil’s cackle.

—Five Years Later—

Dave closed his computer, leaned back in his office chair, and stared out the window, grateful for the view of the quiet neighborhood. Friday again. I’ve got a lot to do.

Footsteps padded closer. Max stuck his head in the doorway, tossed David a ripe red apple, and grinned. “I heard the news.”

Catching the fruit with one hand, David smiled back at his friend. “No secret this time.”

After losing sixty pounds, Max could saunter into the room. “You deserve it. I can’t think of anyone else who has dedicated so much time and energy to others’ welfare as you have these past few years.”

David rose, grabbed his threadbare coat from the back of his chair and tucked the apple into the pocket. “What I should’ve been doing all along.” He pointed to the door. “Want to meet at the track? I have a tutoring session at the community center in a couple of minutes, but I could meet you after that.”

“Sure!” Max’s grin widened, his eyes alight with happiness. “See what I mean; you’re always helping people. You encouraged me to give up death burgers and get healthy. The department heads are finally doing the right thing—naming the department after you, a man of well being if ever I knew one.”

David patted Max on the shoulder as he headed for the door. “Thanks, my friend, but I had to refuse the honor.”

Startled, Max blinked, his mouth dropping open.

“Don’t feel bad. Maybe someday. But in the meantime,” David opened the door and crossed over the threshold, “I went through too much hell to forget—it’s best to wait till the fruit ripens to name the tree.”

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/apple-hand-tree-apple-picking-6197307/

They Had Their Chance

Gianna sat in her living room before a shoebox filled with memories and stared at an old, taped together letter. Anxiety scrambled after fear, chasing horror along the byways of her mind. How could he have done such a thing? But now she knew—for once and for all—she had done the right thing.

The screen door squeaked open. Her youngest, Janie raced into the room followed by her hyper-excited pup, tracking newly mown grass across the floor. “Mom! Guess what! There’s a new cat in the neighborhood. It’s black and white so I’m calling it Moonie.”

After dropping the letter onto a stack of family photos, Gianna shoved the box into a wooden cabinet and shut the door. She prayed that she could do the same with the images filling her mind.

Pup raced around the room, dove onto the couch, and flopped down, her tongue lolling. Janie laughed and joined her partner in crime.

In perfect imitation of a miffed prison guard, Gianna crossed her arms, peered down at the two innocents, and growled, “Think you can wander in here carrying all outdoors with you, eh? Suppose you’ll be expecting lunch, too, no doubt.”

With some kind of child’s extra-sensory perception, Janie scrunched her nose and tilted her head, listening for a hidden something.

Gianna relaxed her pose, returning to ordinary-mom.

Happy again, Janie tipped back her head and boldly proclaimed her really important news, “Dad says he wants grilled cheese, chips, and pickles for lunch.”

Gianna rolled her eyes and headed for the kitchen, glad for the distraction. “Oh, yeah? He wants your favorite lunch?” She hunched her shoulders in dejection. “And here I planned on liver and gizzards with a side dish of boiled onions. Oh, gee. I never get what I want.”

Janie and her sidekick bounced off the couch and followed in close proximity, perhaps to make double-sure that mom hadn’t gone to the dark side. She even scooted to the refrigerator and yanked out the cheese package just to be safe.

The puppy lapped up a bowl of water, while Janie propped her head on her hands, sitting at the kitchen counter, her eyes following her mom’s every move.

Pushing every thought away, except how to make extra-good grilled cheese sandwiches, Gianna performed mom-magic and prepared a delicious, healthy lunch just in time for her husband to tromp in, stomping a pile of cut grass and weeds on the doormat.

Matt looked up sheepishly. “Sorry, but I had to do a lot of cutting, or we’d need a compass and a map to get through the backyard.”

A waterfall of gratitude sluiced Gianna from head to foot. She could barely get out her words. “Thanks, sweetheart.”

With a perplexed frown, Matt peeled off his shoes, padded in his grungy socks across the room, eyed the lunch spread, and shot a hi-five to his daughter.

Janie giggled.

Pup slept curled up in her corner. A perfect picture of creature comfort.

Gianna sat next to her husband, and they clasped hands as they said grace over the meal, their heads bowed. Then everyone dug in, filling their plates. Suddenly, the imaged of the torn and taped letter flooded Gianna’s mind. Choking back a sob, she ran out of the room.

~~~

The July sun finally released the day, and dark coolness settled over the bedroom as Gianna readied for bed.

Matt hadn’t said anything since she had told him to leave her in peace for a bit. She had cried for over an hour, and her eyes were still puffy at dinner time.

Matt had taken Janie to his parents’ house where they fed the assortment of dogs, cats, and hummingbirds awaiting their return from Mount Rushmore. He had simply offered a quick kiss on Gianna’s cheek and roared off with a squealing-happy Janie down the road.

Thank God.

Alone in the house, Gianna pulled out the old shoebox and tipped it upside down. She spread out the photographs, putting them into chronological order: her parents wedding photo, her brother’s fifth birthday party, Thanksgiving with Grandmother and Papa, her sister’s third birthday party, Christmas with Aunt Selina. Her baptism. Everyone had looked so happy, smiling so bright for the camera.

There were no photos of the fights, the drunken spells, the rampages. No copy of the divorce decree. Only the one letter. Torn into pieces. It had been taped so that the edges matched, and the words, though dim, were clear enough to read.

“I love you…”

Gianna plunked down on the edge of her bed, her gaze straying to the fireflies sparkling just outside the window.

Matt padded in and sat down next to her, their shoulders touching. “You ready, yet?”

She nodded, tears filling her raw eyes again. “He loved her. He really did. And I never knew.”

“This has to do with that box you found at your mom’s, doesn’t it?”

She nodded. “All the old photos and a love letter—from dad to mom.”

Matt didn’t shrug or murmur. He just clasped his hands, his head bowed, listening.

“I never knew them as a happy couple. I only knew the fights and all the nasty stories they told about each other. When Dad died, mom seemed relieved. She never once said a kind word about him. When she died, I only grieved for what I’d never known.”

Matt cleared his throat, pausing, parsing his words carefully. “It bothers you that he once loved her? That they loved each other—long ago? Like maybe that’ll happen to us?”

Gianna glanced over and saw a wrinkle of concern on her husband’s forehead. “No. Not that. I understand that what tore them apart is on them. It’s not us.” She sniffed back her pain and straightened. “No, what got me was that despite everything, I still believed in marriage. I dared to hope.” She took her husband’s hand and caressed the ring on his finger. “By some miracle, we did what they couldn’t.”

Matt nodded and clasped her hand in his. “Or wouldn’t.” He stood and led her to the bed, pulling the soft sheet back and letting her slide under the coolness. He leaned over and wiped away the last vestige of a tear. “What’ll you do with the letter?”

She sighed as she leaned back on the pillow, expectantly awaiting her husband at her side. “I’ll put it away. After all, they had their chance.”

Matt climbed into bed and wrapped his arms around her.

Gianna snuggled in close. “Now it’s my turn.”

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/old-letters-portrait-old-letter-436502/

For the First Time

Zuri stomped forward, Melchior’s house silhouetted against the late afternoon sunlight behind, and grabbed the Cresta by his bio-suit. “Where is she?”

A line of sweat dripping from the side of his face, his golden eyes red-rimmed, and his suit smeared with road dirt, Tarragon reared back. “Don’t handle me!”

Abashed at his impetuous move, Zuri clamped down his anger, dropped his hands, and tried to form coherent words. “Where is my daughter?”

Brushing imaginary dirt off his front, Tarragon shrugged. “How should I know? She was playing servant girl with Sterling and that Luxonian boy last I saw.”

A group of men tromped out of Melchior’s front door and pounded down the steps. In boisterous conversation, they headed toward the stables.

Zuri motioned Tarragon around the far side of a shed. The scent of dried hay drifted into his nose, making him sneeze. He clapped his hand over his face, muffling the sound.

Tarragon snorted. “And you complain about my native sensitivity? At least I can control my bodily functions.”

Wiping his face with his arm, Zuri glared at the rotund Cresta. “So, she was all right when you saw her?”

“She was fine.”

“I don’t understand. She hasn’t answered one of my messages.”

With an elegant eye-roll, Tarragon started toward Selby’s old shed. “We can discuss matters in there. Knowing how superstitious these people are, they probably won’t use it again for a long time.”

Striding at the Cresta’s side, Zuri paced along, his anxiety settling into mild concern. “They’re going to burn it down tomorrow.”

Tarragon ducked his head as he entered the front doorway. “We have it for tonight then.” He stretched and sighed, staring longingly at the bed. “I have endured much to find you.”

Alert again, Zuri kept his gaze fixed on the Cresta. “What?” Alarm spread through him. “You said that Nova was fine!”

“She is.” Tarragon flopped down on the rickety bed. “But Mauve will never be the same.”

“Mauve? I thought she was at the Widow’s place.”

“She was. Until she got a little too inquisitive and discovered the Mystery aliens playing fools in front of everyone.”

“She found them?”

“And they, or he—the younger one—found her annoying. She was rather. But still. He took justice a tad far, me thinks.”

His heart pounding, Zuri stepped further into the dim interior, wishing he still had night vision. “Where is Mauve now?”

“Shattered to pieces on the rocky coast. Not a chance she can be put together again. I checked.”

Caught off guard by the violent image, Zuri fell back and sat down hard on a stool. “She’s dead, then?”

“Even a Luxonian couldn’t fix her. After an embarrassing incident, she planned to take revenge, so I followed and watched her saunter up to the Mystery-boy on the edge of the cliff. They chatted a few moments, but even from that distance, I could see; he wasn’t the fool she was. Poof! She was turned to a statue, and he nudged her over the cliff. People say Crestonians are cold! This was positively artic.”

“Oh, God, what about Sterling?” Blood rushing to his ears, a faint dizziness swirled the room. “If they are that dangerous, we need to get off the planet. We must get the children!”

“Calm yourself, Ingot. I don’t believe that the Mystery being meant any harm. He simply wanted to remove Mauve’s annoying presence. She planned to kidnap him; you know. Maybe he was just protecting himself. In any case, they haven’t injured anyone since we’ve been here, but they could have long ago. And they did try to warn her; she just wouldn’t listen.”

Exhausted but more determined than ever, Zuri pulled out his datapad and tapped it to life. “Start from the beginning, from when you first met Mauve, and tell me what happened. As soon as we have this on record, we’re heading to the widow’s castle to get Sterling and the kids.”

Tarragon waved a tentacle in the air. “I’ll make the report, don’t worry. But we’re not going anywhere. Everyone is heading here. All we have to do is wait for the family reunion.”

~~~

Teal braced himself as Kelesta sat on the edge of his bed and scooped strawberry ice cream from the bowl. She held the spoon invitingly before his face.

Teal waved it away. “I’m not hungry.”

“You need to eat.”

“No, I don’t.”

“All right, you don’t, but it would be good for you, anyway. You’re not going to get over your depression until you start inviting cheer into your life. And there is nothing more cheerful than strawberry ice cream.”

Teal stared at her.

Kelesta laid the bowl aside and rose. She stepped to the window and lifted the white curtain aside, peering into the distance.

The sound of surf rolling on shore repeated in rhythmic rounds as two birds flew across the sky.

Teal tossed back the sheet covering his body and then, as embarrassment flooded him, shrank back. “Where are my clothes?”

Kelesta padded to a shelf, pulled rolled up pants and a shirt in to her arms and carried them to the bed. She placed them next to him and strolled back to the window.

Discombobulated by his unaccustomed blushing reaction, Teal unrolled the baggy cotton pants and tugged them on. Then he pulled the matching cream-colored shirt over his head. With a deep breath, he steadied himself and paced to at the window. “Thank you.” He glanced aside, startled at the somber look in her eyes. “For everything.” He shrugged. “I’m not a very good patient, I’m afraid. Not used to being taken care of.”

“You’re a parent. Being helpless isn’t comfortable.”

Teal pressed her arm. “Nova will be all right. Zuri knows what he’s doing.”

Kelesta shook her head. “We’re past our time—Nova will have to take care of herself soon.”

Teal swung aside, facing her more directly. “What does that mean? You have countless ages ahead of you.”

Kelesta gripped the window frame, the breeze blowing tendrils of hair off her face. “There is a price for everything. Zuri refused his neural transplants, all the attachments, for too long to turn back. I took on human form to have a child—and it has cost much.”

Tears stung Teal’s eyes. “But Song, surely she can help you—like she helped me.”

Her lips wavering, Kelesta met his gaze. “Song revived you. She can’t cure you.”

Taking his hand she led the way to the door, the rolling ocean waves, and bright sunshine.

Teal let himself be drawn along and understood, for the first time, what death really meant.

~~~

Omega picked up a slimy piece of broken clay from the foamy sea waves and stared at it. A strong wind blew over him, tossing his hair into his eyes. He picked up another piece and placed their jagged edges side by side. They didn’t fit together at all.

On impulse, he waved and a cloth bag suddenly hung limp in his hand. With a swift motion, the clay fragments floated out of the water and he opened the mouth of the bag, scooping in pieces, like a net capturing fish from the sea.

Once the bag was full, he splashed ashore and dashed up the trail.

In a quiet corner of the courtyard, he spread the broken pieces in the sun and laid them flat. He chewed his lip, perplexed. What to do next? He had never had to do anything like this before, and he wasn’t sure how to start.

“What you’ve got there?” A burly soldier tromped forward and stared over Omega’s crouched figure. “Oh, you broke something, eh?” He whistled low. “No putting that back together son. It’s ruined, see.”

He patted Omega’s shoulder. “Best to man up and face the wrath of the owner than try to hide the mess out here. She’ll figure it out eventually.”

Further disorientated but hopeful for some direction, Omega shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun and squinted at the older man. “How do you know I can’t put her back together?”

A snort and a chuckle accompanied the man’s grin. “It’s clay, young fool. Clay dissolves in the water—salt water most assuredly. I’ve never been so partial to a vessel that I called it a she, but my captain and I loved our ship; she was a beauty in our eyes.”

With a shake of his head, Omega rose to his feet.

Abbas marched across the hard ground with a stern look in his eye.

“My father is coming; I best meet him.” He scattered the clay pieces.

The soldier turned and faced the white-haired man coming his way. His face crunched in concentration. “Ah, you be the fool that entertained us. I only got to see you once—duty calls at unfortunate moments.” He smiled as Abbas stopped before him. “Good evening.”

Abbas offered a quick nod of acknowledgement and then stared at his son. “Where have you been?”

The soldier lifted his hand like a benevolent referee. “Don’t be too hard on him. Been trying this long while to put the thing back together, but it’s a lost cause; he knows now. So, he’ll pay restitution and be done with the fear and guilt of it.”

With an obvious swallow, Abbas choked out his question. “What did you break, son?”

“Mauve.”

His jaw clenched; Abbas gripped Omega’s arm as he nodded a polite good-bye to the warrior.

Omega trotted at his father’s side across the battered earth. “Where are we going?”

“To join the others—and away from here.”

“You don’t mind about Mauve? She was being annoying.”

Abbas dragged his son into the shelter of a dark corner and shook him by the shoulders. “You have no idea what you’ve done!”

Grieved by his father’s fury, Omega whined, “But I tried to put her back together.”

“If you thought putting her together was hard, you have no idea what you’ve just shattered. Our whole existence is based on absolute secrecy. You can be sure now, that not only are we known, we are hated.”

As if he had just tasted something very bad, Omega wrinkled his nose. Hated? What did that even mean?

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/sunset-beach-sea-shore-seashore-2205553/

I’m Making Mine

Imogen trudged down the porch steps of her sister’s farmhouse, doing a quick kindness and her civic duty. She crossed the yard, lugging two large bags to the burn barrel while pattering footsteps followed close behind. She hoped it wasn’t the murdering demon that had kept her up half the night sending some unknown critter to its untimely end.

“Hey, auntie, let me help you with that.”

Without so much as a by-your-leave or an explanation that the trash bag was white and the Goodwill bag was black, Lucy flung the two bags over the edge of the canister where they landed with a definite thud.

Lucy, medium height, dyed jet-black hair, pale skin, and wearing a man’s tank top over artistically torn shorts clapped imaginary dirt off her grubby sixteen-year-old hands and grinned. “I have something important to tell you.”

Tugging the black bag back out of the barrel, Imogen grunted her version of well-get-it-over-with.

Her posture decidedly more formal, hands-on-hips, shoulders back, and her eyebrows bunched, Lucy launched her declaration like a night missile into rebel territory. “I’m going evil. Really bad. It’s a choice, and I’m making mine.”

Maxwell Smart’s voiceover played in Imogen’s head, “…for niceness instead of evil.” She flung the salvaged bag over her shoulder and tromped across the wet grass, her damp shoes sliding with each step.

Lucy pranced alongside, wringing her hands into unnatural whiteness. “Didn’t you hear me?”

Imogen stopped at her car door and dropped the bag on the gravel driveway. “I’m doing my absolute best to ignore you. Now, go inside to your mother and break her heart—after every good thing she’s done for you. I have to drop this off at Goodwill before they close, or I’ll be stuck driving it to Mass in the morning with Old Man Davy and his wife pretending they don’t notice a thing.”

“Would it bother them so much if you have an old bag in your car?”

“They wouldn’t care really. But they’ll have nothing to talk about, so they’d ask. And then I’d have to explain that I stopped by my sister’s place yesterday, being today, and it would slip out that my niece tried to burn the blinking thing before I could get it to Goodwill.”

A microcosm of a grin twitched over Lucy’s face. “So, you wouldn’t tell them that I’ve gone evil?”

“You tried to burn a donation to charity. Enough said, honey.”

A prolonged sigh followed Lucy as she directed her feet to the porch steps. “No one understands me.”

Least of all you, child. Imogen swung the bag into the back seat and plunked her body before the steering wheel. She drove down the lane at the moderately safe speed of forty miles per hour.

~~~

Pulling into her driveway, Chancy, Imogen’s Irish Setter and sorry excuse for house security, bounded forward. What does one say to a happy-go-lucky dog? What she always said, “Yes, I love you, but don’t jump. It’s bad manners.”

Ignoring not only manners but decency itself, Chancy scrabbled forward and propped her muddy paws on Imogen’s clean pants.

“Glad I already made my Goodwill run. They’d have offered me clothes if I’d arrived like this.” She blew a stray lock of hair from her face and stepped around three cats prancing in her path.

In the kitchen, she surveyed the wreckage. Though it happened every time she left the house, it always took her by surprise. The fresh mess. And, of course, neither Carl nor the kids would know how it happened. Bread crumbs, a jelly smear, a dollop of peanut butter, a couple of stray raisins and a banana peel informed her of recent culinary adventures. Brad, undoubtedly. The boy was growing faster than poison ivy around the utility pole. Not his fault. Nor his dads. Not mine either, come to think of it. She shook her head. But your mom has a lot to answer for.

Her sixty-five-year-old husband with a hint of arthritis in his joints lumbered into the room. A good twenty pounds overweight and sporting the unshaved look, Carl swallowed the last of what smelled like the missing banana and offered a half-wave. “Jane high-tailed it to work an hour late and Joe’s gone off with friends to a game. Had to eat early. So, I made sure he got some fruits and vegetables.”

Imogene wrung out a wet dishcloth and rounded up the crumbs. “How’s that?”

“I made him add raisins and corn chips to his PBJ.”

She brushed the crumbs into the trash and started on the dirty dishes. “Why would he agree to do that? Sounds terrible.”

“He wanted twenty bucks. Nothing’s for free in this world.” Carl leaned against the counter and appeared to mull over the ponderous truth he’d just revealed to the world.

Imogene wiped her hands on a dry towel and stared fixedly at her husband. “You bribed your grandson to eat our good food with your hard-earned money?”

Carl let that sink in. “Yep. That’s about the size of it.” He patted her shoulder. “But I’ve been busier than a bee in spring time. Got that racoon carcass buried past the fence line, fixed the wobbly back step, and put a chuck roast in a pan with garlic, onions, carrots, and some of our new potatoes.”

Pride shining through his eyes, he opened the oven door. “Just waited till you got home to turn it on. Shouldn’t take long.”

Pleased but stuck on the words “racoon carcass,” Imogene flashed a falling-star smile. “What’d you bury?” She titled her head to the left. Her hearing had never been good, but after today, she seriously debated the benefits of a hearing aide.

“You know, the coon that lost the big battle last night?”

“I heard the battle; I just didn’t know who the participants were. Or who won.”

“Didn’t see any winner badges. Just the loser stiff as a board in the garage this morning. Though, he was laid out near Chancy’s food bag.”

“Chancy has never killed anything in her life. Too silly.”

Carl shrugged. “Everyone has their limits. Guess old coon pushed them too far.”

Imogene planted a kiss on her husband’s cheek, pressed the bake button until it read 400, and then started toward her bedroom. “I’m going to change out of these clothes and lay down a moment.” She stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “Lucy told me that she’s going evil now. Picked out clothes to match and everything.”

Carl snorted. “Yeah. Good luck with that.”

Imogene turned around and propped her hand on the counter. “She said it was her choice.” Shaking her head, she tried to toss Lucy’s baby picture out of her mind. “We never considered that option.”

Carl started for the backdoor. “Oh, yes we did. Just didn’t tell anyone. Not like kids today. Good Lord, they tell everyone everything.”

“And why is that?”

“Don’t know, honey.” Carl passed out the door and creaked down the back steps.

Later that night as she lay in bed, Imogene had to give it to her husband. Her belly felt as satisfied with dinner as it had ever been. She enjoyed resting comfortably in her husband’s embrace. Sometimes his ways sent shivers of irritation through her whole body, but right now, perfect calm flooded her being. The soft feel of his arms around her middle, fitting together as perfectly as spoons in the kitchen drawer.

After a day of small duties where challenges rose from the murky depths of thoughtless minds, she closed her eyes and settled her heart to the drumroll of raindrops against the window pain. No murdering demons tonight.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/sunset-meadow-countryside-weather-801736/

We Get Along

Weary after a long day at work, Everleigh forced down a tuna salad at the kitchen counter as evening closed in. Blessedly, a cool wind rippled the curtains, relieving the furnace-blast heat of the hot summer day. Body and soul still together, she patted her sleepy do-nothing cat as it dozed on the couch, and then padded down the white hallway to her bedroom.

Her phone binged, notifying her that she had received a message. Without even looking at it, she placed it by her bedside and began her evening routine. A cold shower would revitalize her, surely.

Well, that didn’t work.

Bleary eyed, she brushed her teeth and then plopped onto her bed.

Boring rote days, toss-and-turn nights, and high humidity drained her will to live.

She stared at the fan. “Don’t just hang there.”

Padding to the wall switch, she did the needful and then grabbed her phone on the way back to her bed.

“Dad?” She scrolled to message.

Your grandpa is arriving on Sunday to celebrate his 90th.

Hope you’ll come too.

Love, Dad

The scene from The Lord of the Rings where Frodo sets off from Rivendell, heading to Mount Doom in order to save the Shire flashed through her mind.

It’s not quite that bad.

Ignoring the jittery goose bumps that raced up her arms, she scrolled down.

Yep. There’s the address. “Dad doesn’t miss a beat.”

With a mighty effort, she gripped her will by the collar. Behave yourself! She talked out loud to encourage her flagging spirits. “Dad never asks for much, and he hasn’t seen grandpa in years. I’ll be merciful and go along.”

She squinted as she googled the address.

“Oh, wait! That’s way south. Nearly in another state. There’s no direct road!”,

Panic reared its ugly head, and Everleigh sucked in a shuddering breath. Then her phone binged again.

What now? The whole thing’s been canceled? Sure, that’s it. Thank you, God. I promise I’ll—

The thought—Check the message before making any promises—wiggled through her brain.

She scrolled down.

Aunt Kate needs a ride. Pick her up on the way, okay?

No “please, dear daughter.” Not even an emoji grimace—a way of saying “Sorry for the horrific situation I’m putting you in.”

Her fingers itched to tap back a formal message stating, “Everleigh died last year and was peacefully buried in the local cemetery.” She’d even be willing to pay for a tombstone to make it look good.

Dying was one thing. Being buried under her family’s strange coping mechanisms was quite another.

~~~

The thing about Aunt Kate, Everleigh reminded herself as she sped along the country road, was that she had lost the ability to communicate decades ago, but no one had the heart to tell her.

She parked her car in front of the tiny white ranch house in the quiet neighborhood and peered in the back seat, mentally reviewing her to-do list. Blanket for Auntie—since ninety-five degrees in the shade just won’t cut it for her old bones. A bottle of cola, two root beers, a water bottle, and a flask of gin. She’d make her way through them with unerring determination. Heaven help her if she forgot one of the nectars of the gods.

Her sainted sister, Jane would take care of the food. Jane would also take care of the decorations, insurance policies, and would make sure that two televisions were blaring—one covering the conservative side of world affairs, the other keeping the liberals in touch with hot-button issues. Of course, the internet would be available at all times.

Or the universe would evaporate.

Ready to leap forth and assist her eighty-something aunt, Everleigh froze when the old woman speed-hobbled down the walk swinging her cane. “Open the door, honey cakes! Can’t ya see, I’m ready?”

According to Google maps, the drive was only supposed to take two and a half hours. According to Everleigh’s comfort barometer, the drive was interminable.

The old woman chatted rapid-fire for several minutes, then asked incomprehensible questions.

Repeat.

After using every stock answer in the omniverse, Everleigh soon reverted to “Hmmm” and “you don’t say?”

Aunt Kate was not amused.

~~~

Everleigh’s dad, on the other hand, seemed to find everything and everyone funny. He never laughed out loud, just let the glitter in his eyes chuckle at the cymbal-clash reality of the family gathering.

Out back, her brother-in-law-number-two, Donnie, barbecued ribs and turkey burgers for those who either wanted delicious food or clean arteries. Jane sent the vegans into ecstasy with crispy buffalo cauliflower bites, oil-free pumpkin pancakes made with gluten free flour, and no-tuna salad sandwiches.

The two teens in attendance peeled off into opposite corners of the house and played multiplayer games with people on the other side of the globe.

Grandpa sat stage center stretched out on a lawn chair, a mild afternoon sun brightening his pale face. His wandering wide-eyed gaze reflected little of his glory years serving in two wars and then managing a realty business for forty years, till grandma died and all her money sense was buried with her.

After seeing that auntie was stashed safely at the picnic table where she could snatch whatever food or drink took her fancy, Everleigh wandered about, checking to see if there were any friendly aliens about the place.

Naw. Just family.

Then a hand tapped her shoulder and Everleigh shrieked. She turned and stared into the blackest eyes she had ever seen. Set in a golden face crowned with blue-black shiny hair that trailed down a straight back, Everleigh realized that beauty knew how to arrange her jewels.  

The woman thrust out a hand. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. Just wanted to introduce myself. I’m Lekha, a nursing student from the hospital where your sister works. I watch over your grandpa whenever she’s too busy or something special is going on.”

Everleigh shook the offered hand and tried to think of coherent words. “Oh?” Where was Auntie’s quick wit now? “Well, that’s good of you. To come all this way—” She glanced over her shoulder.

Jane’s boy, Earl, sat beside the old man, showing him something on his phone. A game probably.

Unabashed, Lekha took in the scene with an expression suggesting that not only was her eye color different, her vision was too. “I enjoy it. Seeing a family together is refreshing, lifts my spirits.”

Everleigh gawked. She clamped her mouth shut to keep it from dropping open. She swept her gaze over the yard. Probably fifteen people in all and no large family confabs. All intimate clusters. Each to their own niche.

“We’re not a very cohesive group, I’m afraid. We get along by not having too much to do with each other.”

Lekha grinned. “Most of my family is home in India. I’m here studying. At least your family is on the same continent. That’s something.”

Earl stepped up, barging into the conversation as entitled people often do. He beckoned Lekha with a waving hand. “Hey, you gotta come and check on grandpa. I think he’s thirsty, but he’s trying to drink the hand sanitizer.”

Undisturbed by this newest proof of borderline insanity, Lekha hurried away to her duty.

Everleigh strolled over to her dad who stood near the empty grill holding a sampler plate—a bit of everything on there. “You having a good time?”

He shrugged. “I don’t come to have a good time.”

Everleigh sighed. “I thought that was the point.”

Her father took a bite of a buffalo cauliflower and shook his head. “Honey, we can’t make each other happy. But we can get along well enough to celebrate a person’s life while he’s still with us. That’s pretty good, in my book.” He lifted a pumpkin pancake and offered it to her.

Hungry for the first time in days, Everleigh took a bite.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/nature-summer-grass-travel-3245401/

One Life Time

Song sat at Teal’s bedside, her hands clasped and her head bowed. It was an old room, the remnant of the first prayer-house ever built on Helm. The teak wood window frames, baseboards, rafters, and furniture had ripened to a rich sheen, giving the space a comforting, ever-lasting feel.

Steepling her pale fingers under her chin, her gaze traveled over Teal. After cleansing the body and proper infusions with hypo-static thoughts, words, and actions in order to restore balance to the spirit, her attendants had left her to guard him in quiet prayer.

He lay still, quite naked to her eyes.

You won’t like that when you wake up.

After sucking in a bracing breath, she climbed to her feet and padded to the far wall. Though the temperature huddled close to the Bauchi comfort zone during the day, it often dropped below freezing at night. She selected a forest-green blanket from a colorful selection and carried it to the bed where she lay it gently over Teal.

With a groan, Teal opened his eyes to mere slits. “Song?”

She patted his hand, forcing a smile. “Yes. I’m here.”

Teal grimaced and licked his lips. “What—happened?”

“You collapsed.” Song perched on the edge of the padded chair and leaned forward. “Don’t worry. Cerulean is safe. He is with Sterling and the others on Earth, continuing their mission.”

Teal’s eyes widened, alarm filling them. “Where am I?”

“On Helm. Zuri helped me get you to my ship and we—”

“I must go back!” His voice wavering, he struggled to rise. “Now.”

Song laid her hand on his chest. She didn’t need to press. He had no strength to resist. “You may go back. In time. But not today. For now, you must rest.”

His jaw clenching Teal’s eyes narrowed in challenge. “And if I refuse?”

Unbidden tears filled Song’s eyes. “You will die.”

Teal stared at her, comprehension overwhelming his face. “But Cerulean…”

“He will learn. Just as you did. As your father did before you. We are allotted one lifetime. You can only live yours. Never your son’s.”

Teal’s gaze traveled to the ceiling and stopped, frozen.

Song glanced up. A spider dangled by a web from the beam above. Was it anyone she knew? Probably not. Likely just an honest spider looking for the day’s meal.

A tear trickled down Teal’s cheek. His face as still as carven stone.

Song stood, her long red dress sweeping over the flagstone floor. “Sterling must lead, and Cerulean will follow. They have much to teach each other.”

With almost imperceptible shake of his head, Teal continued to focus on the ceiling.

“Though I have never given birth in flesh and blood, I have mothered many. The hardest part of love is not holding a dear one close, it is letting them go.”

Song reached the doorway when she heard his raspy response.

“I will see him again.”

She padded through the arched hallway. I pray so.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/woman-fantasy-forest-magic-surreal-2961723/

Life’s Storms

Kiara loved the sound of the wind rushing through the woodland. Earthy and rustic, it spoke of invisible worlds and steadfast powers beyond human control. Blades of spring grass poked up from last winter’s mulch, and buds swelled in the promise of better things to come. She sighed. If only…

The sun had crested over an hour ago, and she must return to her apartment, then off to her shrill, insistent work place, always maintaining a calm, professional demeanor.

A redbird alighted on a fence post, chirping an attractive, lilting tune. Why can’t I be a bird?

“Kiara?”

Her sister’s voice. Myra always knew where to look.

Kiara stepped from the shadows into the field. “Yes?”

“There you are!” Myra jogged forward. “Let’s go to the lake. Mother left a cold supper in the kitchen, and the boys won’t be back for another couple of hours.”

A thrill ignited Kiara’s imagination. “You think we could?” Doubt quickly cooled the spark to mere ash. “But I should prepare for—”

“Another workday?” Myra gripped her sister’s arm and tugged. “You’re always working, and when you die, your spirit will float about this beautiful planet, wondering why you ever lived.”

Aching pressure surged against an inner wall, splashing over the ramparts. Tears filled Kiara’s eyes.

~~~

The two women stood on the rocky shore, surrounded by cliffs held together by a phalanx of trees, ripples scurrying across the blue-green water.

A tall, lean man strolled toward them, waves splashing his toes.

Shock filled Kiara as she stared wide-eyed. “What’s Jagan doing here?”

Myra kept her eyes glued to the horizon. “Does he have to have a reason?”

Images of the muddy water, floating debris, homes half-submerged in the flooded plain filled her mind. So many had lost loved ones in the disaster. The funerals never seemed to end. Then they did, and everyone returned to work and normal lives.

Normal? What does that mean? “I thought he moved up north, away from—”

Myra shot her a glance. “He did. But now he’s back.”

“He doesn’t have family here. Not anymore.”

Scuffing a bare toe against a smooth rock, Myra rubbed a fish-shaped pendant hanging around her neck. “Doesn’t he?”

With a snort, Kiara tossed her head.

Jagan stopped and nodded. His eyes reflected grief mingled with endurance. “I was down the shore and saw you; hope I’m not interrupting.”

Myra hugged her sister’s arm. “Of course not. Mother has made enough supper for a spring festival; come and join us. The boys would love to see you. They’ve been working on a kite.”

His gaze glancing off Kiara, Jagan waited.

Words tumbled from Kiara’s lips before she knew what she was about. “Certainly. Come and be welcome. I have to return to work so someone should enjoy—” What? Life? She blushed in confusion.

Ignoring the unfinished thought, Jagan fell in step between the two women as they headed back to a small blue Honda. “You’re still at the same place?”

Kiara nodded. “Same work. Same family. Same everything.”

Myra’s tiny head shake obliterated the lie. The tiny woman pulled out her keys and slid into the driver’s seat. “You two sit in back and don’t tell me how to drive.”

~~~

After supper, Jagan met Kiara in the kitchen as she wiped the wooden table free of spots and crumbs. He tugged a towel off the rack and started drying the dishes. “Keeping busy helps, doesn’t it?”

Her throat tightening, Kiara kept her gaze glued to the polished surface.

“I moved away. Thought I’d find peace if I didn’t have to run into a memory every time I turned around.”

The distant sound of rumbling thunder echoed off the hills. “But now you’ve returned. For good?”

He smiled and lifted the clean stack of plates onto the middle shelf. “For good? That’s funny. I hardly know.”

With a shrug, Kiara dismissed his honesty. “I like to keep busy. Productive.” She squeezed the sponge and laid it neatly on the soap dish. “Not a problem.”

Jagan leaned against the sink and nodded. “That’s good. I hated it when I couldn’t feel anything anymore. Just a vague unease, like something was supposed to be inside of me that wasn’t.”

The wind picked up, and branches swished against each other, groaning in stormy delight.

A shiver ran down Kiara’s arms. “I should’ve headed back to my apartment this afternoon, but I got caught up in the spring sunshine. And Myra and mom wanted…you know.” She sighed. “I’ll have to get up extra early tomorrow to make the drive if I want to get to work on time and do stuff.”

With a playful twinkle, Jagan twitched the towel at Kiara. “Love doing stuff, do ya?”

Laughter bubbled inside Kiara. “You betcha! The more stuff the better! I’m one of the best stuffers—” Suddenly, as if she had been stripped of every article of clothing like in a horrible nightmare, left without a single defense, choking tears killed all joy.

Jagan didn’t ask. He simply took her in his arms and held her. Softly, without possession, advice, or comment.

Her tears stained his brown shirt, but she couldn’t stop them. She hung on and let the tears do their work. After a deep calming breath, she pulled away. “I still have to go tomorrow.”

He nodded. “And you’ll manage another productive day.”

“I will.” She looked up and met his eyes. “And you?”

“I’m home now. Grief can find me whether I work or play.”

Rain pounded the roof and beaded the window. A breeze sashayed into the kitchen.

“I wish I were a bird…”

Jagan took her hand, led her to the doorway, and flung open the door. Messy drops drizzled and splattered.

He pointed to the treetops where a nest swayed in the wind.

Queasiness unsettled Kiara’s balance. “How do they stand it?”

He gripped her hand tighter. “It’s home.”

“Home?”

“The place where you face life’s storms.”

As the drops slowed, Kiara relaxed, peace enveloping her. Home isn’t a place. It’s a presence. For the first time in forever, her soul flew.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/thunderstorm-sea-clouds-forward-3417042/

Landscape of Their Days

—Planet Helm—

Song, in her petite elven form, wearing a dark green tunic over grey leggings, strolled along the wooded glen, soft brown soil cushioning each step while pink blossoms waved in a gentle breeze. She stopped and breathed in the deliciously sweet scent of spring.

Butterflies sailed by as birds twittered from the branches: bluebirds, redhearts, and goldenhues. Even a pair of orangefires insisted on wishing her a good morning.

She smiled and bowed in the accustomed greeting between Bhuac and natures’ citizens.

A fierce greenhawk swooped in and, with its large bulky body, bristled, sending the gentler folk into a frightened frenzy. The joy-filled chirping turned to cawing and sharp screams of distress.

Her heart twisting, Song watched, helpless to alter the scene for though she ruled the planet, her influence in the wild only reached so far.

Pounding steps along the wooded path, turned her attention. A figure jogged forward, long black hair flowing over thin shoulders, clear eyes narrowed in concentration. A strong woman suffering from unaccustomed weakness.

Kelesta?

Slapping her hand against her chest, the woman came to a skidding halt before Song, heaving deep to catch her breath. “They’re going back!”

Her heart clenched; Song froze. As if understanding the gravity of the moment, the feathered feud ceased, and silence descended. Only the sun continued to shine unabated. With a start, Song realized that she could not sense a thing. Even the ground under her feet had fallen away.

“Did you hear me?” The woman drew closer, her hand reaching, whether to awaken her mentor or grasp at needed strength, neither could guess.

Song nodded. “I heard.” She forced a calm smile. “It is good to see you again, Kelesta. Where is your husband and daughter?”

A darted glance at the sky and a facial spasm spoke louder than words. “They’ve gone too.” Her gaze fell. “Ark passed on and his son, Tarragon is taking his place.” She straightened her shoulders. “Teal is sick, and Sterling is…preoccupied. A Luxonian named Mauve has stolen his heart.” She sucked in a deep breath, readying herself for painful truth-telling. “Zuri wants to teach Nova about humanity’s true nature. Perhaps make room in her soul for—” Kelesta flapped her arms like a bird perched on the edge of flight. “Something.” She shrugged. “She certainly isn’t interested in me.”

Caught in a snare that had held her for much too long, Song wrapped her arm around the young Bauchi woman. “She loves you—she just doesn’t know it yet.”

With a muffled sob against the older woman’s shoulder, Kelesta gave way to tears. “She can’t love someone she doesn’t know. She refuses to even consider what Zuri and I offer.”

The sun, still on its ascent, shone bright from the clear golden sky. “Let’s return and have a morning cup with biscuits and honey-jam. You’ve come home just in time to help me face the coming storm. Humanity measures time in such small increments; they do not see the landscape of their days. They are about to undergo a momentous change, and they have no idea of the long-range repercussions.”

“But what about Zuri and Nova—and all the rest?”

Song took Kelesta’s hand and started down the path, her feet padding on the soft, springing soil. “They must learn too. It is what all the living must do or else die in stagnation.”

Kelesta brushed a low hanging branch out of her way, pink blossoms falling on the path, as she kept in step with Song. “But what if she learns the wrong lesson and refuses her father and me? What if we lose our daughter?”

Tears aching behind her eyes, Song looked to the trees and silently beckoned to the birds. Give me strength. “It is the highest praise of our creator to give us freedom.” She squeezed her friend’s hand as the birds burst into fresh song. “It is our trial to endure whatever they choose.”

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/dream-girl-fantasy-nature-4782767/